Mental Health Awareness Week this May (13-19th) gave employers an opportunity to publicly join the conversation and help remove the stigma around mental health. At Aptus Utilities we recognise the importance of applying the same safeguards to mental health as we do to ensuring the physical safety of our employees. In the following Q&A, Aptus Utilities Support Services Director Natasha Clarke discusses some of the steps Aptus is taking to support mental health at work.
Firstly, what is ‘mental health’?
We all have mental health and the wellness of this fluctuates from day-to-day. Mental health is usually associated with the negative, but it is also possible to have positive mental health. Unfortunately, some of us suffer with poor mental health more than, or for longer periods than others.
Why is it important to Aptus Utilities to address mental health in the workplace?
Recent stats show that 1 in 4 people will experience poor mental health at some point in their life. This number is expected to be higher, as a number of cases will likely go unreported. From a personal perspective, a member of my family has suffered from poor mental health, resulting in lengthy hospital stays from a young age. Previously, this would be something to be brushed under the carpet and not talked about, but now, people are encouraged to talk about their experiences in order to help others – something that I am an advocate of. However, I think there is still a lot of work to be done to encourage people to feel comfortable to talk about issues surrounding mental health.
In the construction industry, specifically, someone is now more likely to die from poor mental health, than from a fall from height – a scary stat! There has been a lot of focus recently in the media on the mental health of males and their reluctance to report issues with their mental health. The construction and utility industry is a male dominated one so we want to ensure that we create an environment where people are well, regardless of their gender. At Aptus, we recognise that our employees are the reason that the business is as successful as it is, without our employees we wouldn’t be where we are today. It is therefore so important for us that we look after our staff and protect both their physical and mental wellbeing.
What steps is Aptus taking to make sure the company is equipped to support staff mental health?
Aptus’ main aim is to encourage people to talk about their mental health. We recognise that as employers we aren’t able to ‘cure’ someone who is having mental health difficulties, but what we do want to do is ensure that we provide a safe and welcoming environment for people to be able to talk about any issues that they are having, whether it is to their manager, to one of our Mental Health First Aiders, or to a colleague. Aptus can then provide employees with the tools and contact details that they may need to be able to manage their mental health more effectively.
At our full company safety stand down in June last year, the main topic was mental health. Speaker Jonny Sharples, who tragically lost his brother to suicide, spoke about his experiences and the importance of seeking help, if and when it’s needed. A speaker from UK Healthcare also attended the stand down to discuss the importance of sleep on mental health. Aptus has also introduced online tools for employees to access tips and advice for staying both physically and mentally fit.
What kind of training is being offered?
We currently have six Mental Health First Aiders within the business across all of our depots, with two more booked in for training. Aptus is committed to making sure resources are available to employees in their time of need and ensuring we have mental health first aiders as well as physical first aiders is a step in the right direction to raising awareness and offering assistance. Training has been provided by Mental Health First Aid England and has been carried out at various locations across the country.
What are some simple steps you can take to support people with managing mental health?
The most important piece of advice that I personally have received from Mental Health training providers, is simply to listen. When people are suffering from poor mental health, it is important that they can discuss their feelings comfortably and confidentially. As mental health first aiders, we have been trained to use the 5 step action plan, ALGEE. Assess the risks, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage self-help and alternative support.
What benefits will this bring and what are Aptus’ future plans to support mental health.
We hope that by offering support to all staff, we will promote a safer and better working environment for all employees. By offering mental health support we hope that this will also, in turn, reduce absenteeism across the workforce. We, as a company, are not only looking at the impacts of negative mental health on employees, but we are also looking at the effects of positive mental health on the workforce and what changes or new incentives we can implement to promote better employee mental health.
Support Services Director Natasha Clarke is a fully trained Mental Health First Aider and has been with Aptus Utilities since 2011. During this time she has been responsible for overseeing the recruitment and training of employees and has been instrumental in facilitating their smooth transition.